Monday 7 March 2022

Bloodywood - Rakshak (2022)

Country: India
Style: Nu/Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Feb 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

Bloodywood have built quite a name for themselves over the past six years, given that this album is their debut of original music, following a 2017 collection called Anti-Pop 1, which was comprised entirely of metal covers of pop songs from artists like Rick Astley, Taylor Swift and the Backstreet Boys. To be fair, they deserve the attention because they've created a unique sound and there are precious few bands who can honestly claim that in 2022. They call themselves folk metal, which is a fair statement, given how much bhangra there is in their sound, but they're utterly unlike any folk metal band you can name.

Much of that is because they're incredibly commercial, which makes it a real shock to realise that this album wass independently released through Bandcamp. How are they not signed to a major label? The nu metal is obvious, furious and frantic beats and crunchy monotone guitars building most of these songs and the vocals split between folk, rap and clean rock voices. The Indian folk side is obvious too, not only in some of the vocals but in the jangly bhangra dhol drums and other more traditional sounds. However, this is highly versatile for nu metal, because Bloodywood venture often into what I think of as soundtrack territory, whether that be films or games. There's as much Machinae Supremacy in here as Linkin Park or Rage Against the Machine.

And, as much as I tend to despise nu metal, not for its use of rap but for its downtuned monotones, childish emo anger and its lack of instrumental solos, I rather like this new serious Bloodywood. It may be Jayant Bhadula's rapid fire vocals that sell the nu metal album the most, but the contrast with the folk side is a huge part of it too. Bhadula is decent at regular speed but when he ups the urgency, his delivery is amazing, clean but raspy and very very fast indeed. Raoul Kerr is a strong rapper and he works well with Bhadula but it's the clean vocals that impress me most.

Well, the contrast impresses me even more. Nu metal is fundamentally angry, at least whenever it's heavier than Limp Bizkit, and contrasting it with traditional Punjabi flutes and jangly bhangra dhol drums is a bizarre concept, but one that works. Indian folk music is inherently happy, so much so that bhangra bands, as the more commercial modern version, are frequent arbiters of mood at weddings. It's hard not to dance to it, even if you can't dance, and it's hard not to be reinvigorated by it, even if you started the day in a bad mood.

The best songs here, like Gaddaar and Machi Bhasad, feature a heavy dose of Indian music so the in your face anger of the guitar and vocals is tempered by folk elements and the result is at once happy and loud. The way that the band play with dynamics is perhaps best shown on Yaad, with an array of softer, piano driven moments, with alternating clean and rapped vocals, but also heavier and angrier sections. Bsdk.Exe features sections with choral backdrops, hand drums, hints at the crunchy metal guitars that will come and a variety of lead vocals over the top. It's not just a pair of unlikely genres combined for effect. Both those genres are properly combined and added to.

The atmospheric side works really well for me too. While Karan Katiyar provides the crunch of the guitars, he also contributes an impressive amount of flute. If I hadn't reviewed the latest Jethro Tull album in January, I'd suggest that this is the most flute I've heard on a rock album in forever. Maybe I should just say metal album there. It isn't just during the intros either, like on Aaj or Jee Veerey. The former feels like it was lifted from a sword and sorcery soundtrack before the frantic beat kicks in and we're suddenly in a video game. The early sections of Zanjeero Se do much of the same thing, piano and underlying electronica reminding of movies and games.

Bloodywood may have got our attention with singles like Ari Ari, which I couldn't avoid on YouTube when it was released, but it wasn't just a gimmick. They backed up the crazy idea behind the song with infectious style and solid musical chops. The only metal band I can think of who got a deeper level of crossover exposure to and appreciation from friends of mine who don't like metal are the Hu. That's impressive. And so is this album. Not everything nails the balance that they do so well, but the majority does and I'm eager to hear their next album.

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